While on stage at the 2019 Headies ceremony, Rema declared himself the future after winning in the Next Rated category of the Nigerian awards show. Whether those words were prophetic or just an audacious estimation of self, the Benin-born musician has delivered on his promise ever since. As a standout talent, Rema has been a critical factor in pushing Afropop into a genre-fluid, futurist epoch that produces a vibrant mosaic of the music—encompassing influences from the hyper-frenzy of trap, reggaetón’s melodic undertone and the immersive sonics of Bollywood scores.
All of these influences come to a head on the singer’s debut LP, Rave & Roses, a 16-song set on which he details love, addiction and fate with pointed clarity. “I swear this album has different moods, different stories,” Rema tells Apple Music. “Just the recording process had different reasons that carried me to the studio, moments that just came out of the blue, but with the same goal. I didn’t have a solid written plan, so I literally approached this album with no fear or pressure. Every project will have different meanings to me, aside from the story they tell—but this one is a sound-sealer, and it’s that bridge to bring the fans closer to Rema.”
Without sacrificing the romantic impulse that inspires much of Rave & Roses, Rema vocalises his belief in predestination and examines societal dynamics with contributions from an eclectic cast that includes American singer 6LACK, British rapper AJ Tracey and French vocalist Yseult. Read on as Rema (Divine Ikubor) guides us through Rave & Roses, one track at a time.
“‘Divine’ is all about how I was born; it’s about my birth process. It shows the trials and the stress and the worries and the pain my mom had to go through in giving birth to me. Even before she was pregnant with me, she was going through battles, and I came at a very weird time in her and my dad’s life. I spent over 10 months in the womb, but I never caused any pain. She was just worried about if the child was alive because I wasn’t making any movements. Until she fell very ill and went to the hospital, and the doctor just decided to give her enough confidence to give it a little push. And she gave it a little push. It was the easiest birth she ever had. My dad told her to name me, and she called me Divine. I tried my best to squeeze all that detail into the first verse, but the best part of the song shows how far that very divine boy has come—as well as talking my s**t. I’ve been fighting battles way before I was born, and I deserve everything I’ve got.”
Hold Me [Rema & 6LACK]
“‘Hold Me’ is literally a mature sense of love. I’m talking about a girl that is not really all about the show, because it’s quite rare in this generation. She’s not about a guy buying her dinner or buying her drinks or getting her gifts. She is just looking for someone to love and respect her, mostly. And it’s just me being that famous guy and observing someone who is quite rare in my generation. Even if I’m famous and all, she doesn’t care about that. She just wants to hold me down and be that real one for me. So, the title represents feeling safe with this woman. That’s what every guy looks for: those quiet moments where you feel safe in this crazy world. I did this song with 6LACK and it’s a masterpiece.”
“‘Dirty’ is all about good love—the special times two people can share. I would say it’s a [2021 single] ‘Soundgasm’-type feel. I’d say it’s the next level of the ‘Hold Me’ narrative; that’s how it advances. Also, the last line from that song is mostly directed towards the pleasure of having someone you love.”
“With ‘Calm Down’, I was with some people from the Mavin Academy, and we were just vibing and chilling. We went into one of the studios where we saw [Andre] Vibez. Vibez saw that our energy was up, and we just wanted to freestyle on beats. The next day, I recorded and brought up my experience where I met a girl at a party. I was trying to get her attention and we could only go halfway in the party, but it advanced and we just locked in and loved up.”
“I made this song on February 14, 2021—Valentine’s Day. And that was a special day, but even if it’s a holiday, I still work. I was at a hotel, actually. London and I just linked up for this.”
Time N Affection [Rema & Chris Brown]
“‘Time N Affection’ is about the time you put into someone you love and how much you give into it. It’s one thing to love and spend money and ball and whatever, but when it loses that main interest, it’s not love anymore. It’s lost. Putting in your time, no matter how busy you are, and putting in your interest proves how much you love someone, and that’s what the song is all about. Chris Brown did his part and that made it a special record. Very graced to have his vocals on my album.”
“‘Jo’ is just a happy record. In the studio, I was in a very light vibe with that record. ‘Jo’ is the Yoruba word for ‘dance’. The song is just a happy jam that covers the whole ‘roses’ aspect of the album, attached to love.”
“‘Mara’ is all about the addiction and madness that comes with love. It’s being obsessed. It’s the next level. According to the arrangement of the songs on the album—from ‘Hold Me’ to ‘Dirty’ to ‘Mara’ and ‘Love’—the love waxes stronger from track to track.”
“It’s really a loved-up album. It’s hype and it’s love. Two great mediums, two great frequencies to tap into, to seal the Rema brand a hundred per cent. ‘Love’ is all about love and what it can inspire—and the addiction that comes with love. This is my definition of love. It’s not, ‘I’m in love with you.’ It’s not, ‘Love this or love that.’ It’s just love. It’s my own definition of love and how I embrace my own love life.”
“‘Addicted’ speaks about a girl who’s addicted to the lifestyle. Addicted to drugs, fame, partying, whatever comes with the fake life, the clout or journey. Everyone is allowed to have fun, but there should be a balance. I know this girl who actually crossed the limit and had an overdose of this lifestyle. In this record, I deemed it not right at all, because being at the [career] height I am, I know that I can have this life to the fullest, but I still have my laidback time to create a balance. So, this song is literally me telling this girl, ‘Yo, you could have a balance to it. Don’t get carried away by it.’”
Are You There?
“‘Are You There?’ is a wake-up call. We go crazy about the government and [yet] slowly we have accepted their bulls**t and we just tend to ignore and only talk when it affects us. We are still complaining about the things our parents complained about. In this song, I complain about certain issues that we face, and the ways I air out my feelings about certain issues in the country. Many things are happening at the same time, and while people are dying, some people are in the club. So, I decided not to care anymore. I just can’t be here focusing on the negativity of the country. Don’t ask me any questions when I’m outside the country and I’m balling.”
FYN [Rema & AJ Tracey]
“‘FYN’ is about this young kid from Benin working his way up, three years back-to-back, and being in this position that I always knew to be the ‘fresh young n****a’ young position from back in the days. When I used to see my big bosses back then, that’s how I labelled them—I’d call them ‘fresh young n****s.’ When I knew I was in that place and when I knew that my bank account was looking good, when I knew that I had worked my way to that status, I felt the need to talk my s**t a little bit. With every level that I [reach], I always make sure that I get the matching beats, something that matches the feel and the level at which I want to talk my s**t. AJ Tracey killed his verse. His voice was perfect for the beat, and his flow was perfect for the lyricism.”
“‘Oroma Baby’ is a jam. It’s just a dance record that still covers the term ‘love’ and how it is attached to the ‘Roses’ side of the album.”
“‘Carry’ is practically the same idea that I used in my record ‘Lady’. It’s just pouring praises on the body of an African woman, and on what she’s all about, inside out.”
Wine [Rema & Yseult]
“‘Wine’ is a love record, partly English, partly French. We were trying to bring the French people to connect with this vibe as well. Yseult and I had a huge connection with this record. [Rave & Roses co-producer] London made sure that collab happened; I actually did the song halfway, and then I forgot about it. Then, London did his thing and came back with vocals, and I was like, ‘Who’s this?’ And he was like, ‘Yo, this is Yseult.’ I’m glad he brought her world into my world.”
“‘Runaway’ was inspired by my experiences back in the days before fame. We live in a society where boys are hustling, and a guy would just take your babe and stuff like that. I had back-to-back anxiety and a little insecurity about holding such a beautiful girl down, because I was broke and not in the position where I wanted myself to be. So, ‘Runaway’ is literally me telling her that I’m not sure our love could thrive here. It’s just me telling her to run away with me and create our own definition of love.”
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